My brothers’ best friend died on April 16, 2014, two days before Good Friday. He was 45.
The funeral was April 22nd, and I attended in support of my siblings, both of whom were very close to him, and very shaken. Although their friend (I’ll call him “S”) was ill for quite some time, his outlook on life gave the people who were closest to him hope that he would go on for many years to come. My middle brother was hit particularly hard – S was his best friend for over 15 years.
The service was one of those non-threatening, no-particular-denomination, Christian blancmange public religious rites; it felt comforting, and had moments of lightness mixed in with quotes from great men and a place for people to “say a few words” if they “felt so moved”. No one did feel “so moved”, and I’ve been to Quaker meetings where more was said by those attending…but that’s not the point, really. The point is that this particular public rite struck me as being designed for the people left behind rather than for S…and specifically designed to be as non-offensive as possible.
To me, this completely misses the mark.
Now, I admit that I am influenced here by the tradition in which I grew up – funeral services were exactly containing both rites for the dead and comfort for those left behind. Consider the following, from the Burial of the Dead, Rite Two of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:
“O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant N., being raised with him, may know the strength of his presence, and rejoice in his eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother (sister) N. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Both of the above collects are options for beginning the service for Burial of the Dead, Rite Two, and most of the Episcopal funerals I’ve attended have used both to begin, thereby acknowledging that the service is for the deceased and for those who mourn. Now, I can hardly expect every service to be the same, but removing the rites and trying to compress the comfort into something that would be good if spread on Wonder bread seems to me to take the entire purpose out.
In addition, a funeral without the palpable presence of the deceased seems a waste. At S’ funeral there were two points at which I felt his presence strongly and both were related to the playing of theme songs from cartoons he loved:
When these were played, S was there. My brothers felt it as well – it was the first time since S died that my middle brother actually smiled. But, when they were over, and the service dissolved once again into well-crafted pap, we retreated to our own thoughts again. Mine were focused on S (and in saying prayers for him), but I wonder where other people ended up?
I went into attending this funeral with the idea that my presence might be of comfort to my brothers, and came out determined to act. I will plan for my own end of life – for my care, and for the rites and rituals with which I wish to go out. I will discuss the same with my loved ones, and will not be afraid to bring the topic up. I will ensure that I uphold the wishes of those for whom I have to carry on.
To spout off and then not do seems particularly ridiculous.